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The fire crackled and snapped. It glossed the brass fender and flickered over the rosy Persian carpet. Gerald stretched and sighed. "Bliss. Perfect bliss. " Hyacinth was seeing the room with his eyes: the books, the crystal horses on the mantel, and Francine's nourishing potted gardenia in the window bay. With his memory, she was also seeing his room, which she had once visited: a dim box filled with the noises of house and street, rank with the smell of frying grease, crowded, cramped, and lonely.

Not forever," he protested. "None of this makes sense. Other couples manage. " "It's not that simple. Unmarried, I get a room at practically no charge. " "Staying together. " "No. I'm not going out to any hospital like that. I go either singly or with a proper wife, like everyone else there. " "Very definitely a proposal, with a proviso. " She looked at him in dismay, in despair. "Here," Gerald said, taking a notebook and pen from his pocket. " She watched his moving hand with its delicate blue veins and fine oval nails, this hand that knew every curve of her body.

A jug of marbles ... She opened the book and read half a chapter about the neo-Impressionists. But she was reading the same words over and over without absorbing their sense; she was leafing through the rich illustrations without seeing them. Her mind had veered away from the room and the moment. A few months from now, a major turning point would be reached. Gerald was seeking a hospital residency. Where was it to be? And what of her? Nothing definite had yet been said about their future. Was it not strange that nothing had been said?

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